The Desert’s Edge: Scottsdale City Council Long Awaited Desert Edge Plan

By Michelle Talsma Everson

The Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale (DDCS) has been working with the City of Scottsdale for the last 18 months to come up with architecture, experiences and business plan that would bring a long-anticipated desert discovery center to life, according to Sam Campana, executive director of DDCS.

The result is an interpretive desert education center that has been envisioned for nearly 30 years at the perimeter of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It has emerged with recommendations for a new name, a smaller size and price tag, a more sensitive location, and a partnership with Arizona State University’s Global Drylands Institute, DDCS recently announced.

“As the plan began to unfold at its planned location at the edge of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the project began to name itself,” Campana said. “We loved the references to the word ‘edge’ and that, spelled out, EDGE refers to ‘encounters, discovery, global insights and education,’ which is what we’re really all about.”

Campana noted that, through a contract with the City of Scottsdale, the proposed Desert EDGE schematic design was unveiled showing what the center would look like and what it would include. It also included a thorough business plan showing how the center, managed by a nonprofit (DDCS) as part of a public-private partnership, would be sustainable.

“The project is moving through the public process and the next big step would be for the City of Scottsdale to authorize that construction documents would be drawn up,” Campana explained. “At the earliest, Desert EDGE would open in 2020.”

Campana added that Desert EDGE is uniquely positioned in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the nation’s largest urban preserve. “This interactive, educational center has long been planned for this location as a means of teaching school children, residents and visitors what it means to live in the desert and how we can live well into the future in a world that is rapidly becoming hotter, drier and more like our Sonoran Desert environment,” she said.

“Many people ask why Desert EDGE should be located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve,” she continued. “The answer is that we preserve what we love and we love what we know. It’s in truly knowing the mystery and wonder of the Sonoran Desert that future generations of conservationists will understand why it’s important to take care of our native lands.”

Campana explained that growing the next generation of environmental scientists is a core mission for Desert EDGE.

“In addition to establishing a Desert Learning Center aimed at educating and inspiring citizen scientists of all ages to value, thrive in and conserve desert environments, the center will house the newly established Arizona State University Global Drylands Institute,” she confirmed. “Research and training at the institute is expected to focus on understanding the many types of links within ecosystems in drylands, particularly how they are affected by human activities. The research conducted at Desert EDGE, which will be showcased in ways that are accessible to all ages, will help determine what the world’s future will be like as more of the planet become arid and more like the Phoenix metropolitan area.”

She added that local eco-enthusiasts would be happy to know that “the very best in sustainable desert design practices have been brought to this project.” These include a series of flexible solar panels and among other features.

“Community interest is keen. Although neighbors and hiking enthusiasts were initially concerned about changing the existing experience at the Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, our Board — made up of McDowell Sonoran Conservancy stewards, outdoor enthusiasts and preserve movement leaders—worked hard to mitigate those concerns,” Campana said. “… The Desert EDGE will result in generations of preservationists loving the preserve.”


To learn more, visit scottsdaledesertcenter.com. To keep updated on progress, email info@scottsdaledesertcenter.com to be added to the newsletter list.

Michelle Talsma Everson is a freelance writer, editor, public relations consultant and mom based in Phoenix. With degrees in both journalism and PR from Northern Arizona University, she writes for several Valley publications. Find out more at www.mteverson.com.

Read more articles about education at greenlivingaz.com/education

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